(Not the House Tracy McGrady Built)
Where the Beers of the World kiosk once dispensed suds to rowdy NBA fans, volunteers were handing out church literature Sunday. And where Patricia Davis, 38, once saw ZZ Top in concert, she brought her daughter to worship.
œI was saved from that, Davis said, sitting near the old three-point line at the 16,000-seat arena here that is now her church™s new home. œWith the waterfalls, she said, œthis really feels like a sanctuary.
The nondenominational Lakewood Church, the nation™s largest congregation, moved into the Compaq Center, once the home of the Houston Rockets, over the weekend. After $95 million in renovations, including two waterfalls and enough carpeting to cover nine football fields, the arena is now the sanctuary of a church with a congregation of 30,000, revenues of $55 million last year and a television audience in the millions.
Like many new evangelical churches, the building has no cross, no stained glass, no other religious iconography. Instead, it has a cafe with wireless Internet access, 32 video game kiosks and a vault to store the offering.
The pastor, Joel Osteen, 43, did not go to seminary and dropped out of college after a year. But since he inherited the church from his father in 1999, he has been on a roll, spreading a simple self-help message that congregants say is uplifting and accessible. God, Osteen preaches, does not want to see people suffering and poor; he wants them to be healthy, wealthy and wise.
Even with the 16,000-seat facility, the church has scheduled four services each weekend, including one in Spanish. œIt™s very possible that within this year, he could be running 40 to 50 thousand people, said John N. Vaughan, who runs Church Growth Today, a consulting and research center.
Osteen™s rationale for spending $95 million on a church rather than on ministering to the poor was typically upbeat. œMy philosophy, he said, œis that that $95 million will be nothing compared to what we™ll do when we have 100,000 people.